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Marjoe / Thoth

4.3 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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(Jan 31, 2006)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

This classic Academy Award winner is a remarkable behind-the-scenes expose of Marjoe Gortner, an evangelist child prodigy who grew up to expose himself as a fraud. 2-disc set includes the Oscar-winning film THOTH.


There's more to Marjoe than the exposure of an evangelical fraud. Directed by Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, this Oscar®-winning 1972 documentary operates on a number of levels as it follows Marjoe Gortner, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who had been raised, since becoming an ordained minister at the age of 4, to preach the Gospel to a large flock of believers. It didn't matter that young Marjoe was himself a non-believer, or that he would eventually trade his Bible-belt revival tours for the hedonistic pleasures of the 1960s counterculture. What we witness in Marjoe is the power of charisma, and the sheer vitality of a born showman whose fervor--regardless of its falseness--had a profound effect on Christians all around the country, to the extent that Marjoe Gortner achieved a kind of spiritual celebrity by the time he exposed himself as a phony in the early 1970s. Smith and Kernochan capture Gortner's essence with such candor that he emerges as an amiable narcissist, betraying his own selfishness and self-loathing yet honest enough to confess the "business" of harvesting cash donations from his Pentecostal audiences. Gortner succeeded in using this film to launch a modest career in movies (including a role in the 1974 disaster hit Earthquake), and his deceptive preaching was just another form of acting. In exposing himself as a fraud, Gortner deliberately drew attention to himself in the pursuit of celebrity. Ironically, he also succeeded in boosting the faith of his followers, and by acknowledging this, Marjoe adds yet another intriguing facet of truth to its subject.

It makes perfect sense that Marjoe has been paired in this DVD set with Thoth, Sarah Kernochan's Oscar®-winning 2001 documentary short (40 minutes) profile of S.K. Thoth, a street performer whose persona, like Marjoe Gortner's, is entirely fictional yet genuinely compelling. The former Stephen Kaufman (his father was Jewish, his mother African American) struggled with his ethnic and sexual identity, and Thoth shows how he reinvented himself, renamed after an Egyptian high priest, and developed a one-man opera based entirely on "The Festad," a fantasy world, with its own made-up language, that he's created as a youthful refuge from the racism he endured as a biracial youth in the '60s. A self-described "blessed creature" with a unifying message, the androgynous Thoth (whose gold loincloth costume suggests a hybrid of male/female and ancient Egyptian identities) fascinates his audiences of tourists and Central Park regulars, some regarding him as a charlatan while others accept his ruse a celebration of pan-cultural humanity. Thoth may seem like a New Age phony or simply a loser to some viewers (he barely makes a living, and is largely supported by his mother), but his life, like Kernochan's film, is a fascinating quest for multiple layers of truth. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • Excerpts from THOTH's One-Man Opera
  • Filmmaker Biographies

Product Details

  • Actors: Marjoe Gortner, Sarah Kernochan, S.K. Thoth
  • Directors: Sarah Kernochan, Howard Smith
  • Producers: Sarah Kernochan, Howard Smith, Curt Johnson, Lynn Appelle, Max Palevsky
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Unknown)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: January 31, 2006
  • Run Time: 128 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000CCW2VG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,385 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Marjoe / Thoth" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I have waited and waited and waited and waited for this release on DVD. Marjoe won the Oscar in 1972 for best documentary and rightfully so. He went out on a limb, admitting he was a fraud and an entertainer, and brought a film crew to capture it all. I love this film, the way he shows traveling evangelists are mainly cons who make off with a lot of money from people who don't have any to begin with. The segment with the preacher woman who breathes into her mic is crippling--telling her congregation she knows they have bills to pay and have set aside money for a winter coat but the church needs that money more. Ugh... It's incredible to watch him perform and preach the word at these revivals--he's very much a rock star--and even though he's taking this money, it's easy to sympathize with him. He was thrust into preaching at the age of four by parents who exploited and abused him to make money for the family--and ultimately, the film itself is his confession and he's genuinely sorry. I needed this movie when I saw it ten years ago. May it find more viewers who are in a bad way. Marjoe is the court jester of evangelists, and I thank him for doing this film and tarnishing his name on the Pentecostal circuit by doing so. He's helped some of us decades after he took that leap.
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...and, over the course of 90 minutes, Brother Marjoe and his intrepid crew out the bizarre and wild world of Pentacostal hucksterism. What a weird circle of exploitation...no wonder he decided to come clean. Just try not to look as the toothless man screams in tongues during a sermon! Regal at the close-ups of the gaudy (and no doubt pricey) necklace worn by Reverend Taylor as she preaches that her ministry doesn't spend the congregants money on "foolishness"! Why, it's like rubbernecking at a car wreck and watching a gang of battered old drunks waiting for the state store to open rolled into one! Heck, this is almost as good as the psuedo-documentary of Idi Amin, and nearly as sad. It's hard not to feel pity for the way these rubes are being duped, and from the looks of it they're pretty oblivious. One minister candidly talks about his upcoming trip to Brazil. He owns land there, which he tells Marjoe a food processor is interested in. Bought and paid for with your generous donations, praise Jesus! Marjoe helpfully describes some of his carny tricks, like drawing red crosses with sweat activated ink, and the radio/televangelist method of turning "prophecies" into maximum financial return. He evens throws a smoke bomb (shown in a short clip near the end)! Yeah, Marjoe may have been a pretty dispicable con man too, but at least he did his best to expose this nonsense when his conscience got to him. If my parents pimped me to church folks for a living from the age of four, I'd doubtless do the same, and probably with a ton of venom that Marjoe never displays (at least for the cameras). Highly recommended viewing...invite your prayer group over for popcorn and Dr. Pepper!
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Format: DVD
I concur with all the other enthusiastic reviews of this documentary. What you need to know is that this film has been restored, literally transformed compared to the old VHS version of this. The colors are bright, the picture clear, the sound is crisp. What I like most about this movie is the way it messes with your mind, delightfully. Or as others have noted, the truth sure is strange, and you've got an all access pass to this here travelin' show.
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The tent circuit was rapidly heading for extinction by the time this documentary was made, so in addition to being one huckster's self-exposure of his skullduggery, it is also an examination of a subculture which would soon cease to exist (or at the very least be transformed into something wholy unrecognizable from its forebears).

Interestingly, even though the movie depicts the tent revival as being primarily a Southern phenomenon, the revivals shown in the movie took place (if I am recalling correctly) in California & Fort Worth Texas.

Certainly the notion of saving souls for fun & profit is nothing new, but Marjoe Gortner's candor about exactly what he is doing, including the process of exposing himself as a fraud, is a tad unsettling. Both the subject & the filmmaker know that Marjoe's reasons are far from altruistic, and each is using the other for his own purposes. The result is, at times, a rather surreal experience. Marjoe is revealing himself, but in many ways he isn't. We can never really be sure in what he believes, if anything. I suspect it wasn't so much conscience as it was a practical business decision (the tent circuit had been slowly waning since the end of WWII, when the formerly-rural American population once and for all became urbanized)) as he recognized that there were more lucrative media in which he could utilize his talents. Given his upbringing, not as a child but as a gimmick to be exploited, it would be amazing if he has a conscience at all.

Did it make a difference? Apparently not much of one, since Benny Hinn appears to be quite comfortably well-off. People will believe what makes them feel most comfortable. It wouldn't surprise me if some people believed that Marjoe made these outrageous claims of being a fraud only because Beelzebub somehow tricked him into it. For all I know, they may be praying for Marjoe's return to the fold, even today.
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